Sounds blaring from a practice field in Lexington, Kentucky this week are familiar to Gamecocks fans.
A Kentucky sports radio host caught the Wildcats in Tuesday afternoon football practice looping Darude’s “Sandstorm” at full blast with a rooster crowing about every 10 seconds.
For UK head football coach Mark Stoops, it’s about acclimating his players to their first away game of the season — a 7 p.m. kickoff at South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium. The COVID-19 pandemic limited all stadium capacities in 2020, so this week will be the Wildcats’ first true road challenge in almost two years.
“We do have two classes and a significant amount of guys that haven’t been in this environment,” Stoops told reporters in a Monday news conference. “We are going to address it. I’m not going to overdo it, but they have to understand.”
Stoops said he planned to show the team a replay of the Wildcats’ 2017 trip to Columbia to show how to bounce back when the environment gets ahead of them. That year, former Gamecock Deebo Samuel sent Williams-Brice into a frenzy with a 68-yard touchdown reception on the first play.
South Carolina’s defense proceeded to force turnovers on Kentucky’s first two drives, igniting the atmosphere further. But Stoops eventually rallied the Wildcats to a 23-13 win in 2017 — illustrating the lesson he hopes to teach this week.
“We go down there, first play of the game, bam. The place erupts, goes nuts,” Stoops said. “We throw an interception on the first possession, bam. It goes nuts. Settle in, we take full control the rest of the whole first half.
“But you got to take those shots sometimes in these environments, and they do. They just need to understand that, ‘Hey, if we get hit on the chin, you gotta stand back up and play the next play.’ We talk about it, just make them aware, but I don’t need to overdo it.”
The Wildcats have had plenty of success against the Gamecocks as of late, winning six of their last seven meetings. It’s been a shift in the SEC East rivalry, as South Carolina went 13-1 against Kentucky from 2000-2013.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis joined the Wildcats this season after spending the first four years of his career at Penn State. Levis said he’s heard the “tales” about the atmosphere at Williams-Brice and South Carolina’s passionate fan base, and he’s enjoyed UK’s noisy practices this week.
“It was really cool,” Levis said of the pumped-in music and rooster crows at Tuesday practice. “We’re expecting that and more when we get there.”
Levis said he’ll be clapping for the snap this week, something he did at Penn State and says the Wildcats seem to like. He’s also focusing on making loud and clear calls in the huddle. This week will be Levis’ first SEC road game as an SEC quarterback.
If USC head coach Shane Beamer has any sway, this week’s atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium will be the most electric of his young tenure. In his Monday press conference, Beamer stared into the camera lens to make a call-out to South Carolina fans.
“Gamecock Nation, listen to me,” Beamer said. “We need you there early. We need Gamecock Walk to be even bigger and louder than what it was last time. We need the Cockpit to be louder and more disruptive than it’s ever been. We need an environment Saturday night that will be a true home-field advantage for us, and a true twelfth man out there. Loud and boisterous.
“If you’re wearing a mask, great. You ought to be yelling so loud that the sound from your voice tears a hole in the mask. I don’t even know if that’s humanly possible, but let’s sure as heck try. You can be an advantage for us. We are all in this thing together, and we will need you on Saturday night.”
As Stoops prepares Kentucky for the noise and disruption Beamer is aiming for Saturday night, he’s not nearly as concerned himself.
“Are you able to block out the crowd, the Sandstorm and that stupid rooster crowing out there?” A UK reporter asked Stoops on Monday.
“I got the headsets on, so I don’t hear any of that, really,” Stoops said. “I know it gets rocking and can appreciate it, but once I put the headsets on, I don’t hear any of that.”